Thursday, September 02, 2010

Pre- and Post-Hurricane/Power Outage Survival Advice

Hurricane Juan was several years ago, but for anyone who lived through it, it was the worst storm in memory. It tore a swath through our province, and changed a lot of people's attitudes towards hurricanes. With all the climate change occurring, storms are not burning out on our cold waters as they used to - the water is warmer, and storms are hitting us harder. We've had a terrible heat spell just in advance of Earl, our upcoming hurricane, which will not help matters. So in honour of Earl, I thought I'd share some survival tips I learned from Juan, where our household went without water and power for 4 or 5 or 7 or more days (mercifully, I've forgotten which - it may not sound like a long time, but going through it, things deteriorated rapidly. We weren't adequately prepared).  These aren't simple things like "bring your pets indoors" or "buy a gas generator", these are some of the things that we either did, or wish we had done, to make things easier.

Get canned foods to eat, like Chef Boyardee spaghetti in cans (NOT the microwavables!). These you can heat up in the cans (take the lid off first, the can will be too hot to take it off after).  During Juan, we were able to heat these using just 3-5 tealights, and a few hours (see more below). If you have a better heat source, all the faster. Other foods to consider:

  • Cup Noodles (the kind that come in a cup you fill with boiling water)
  • Mr. Noodle (the kind that you have to boil for a few minutes)
  • instant coffee
  • instant rice
  • canned sandwich meat/fish, to make sandwiches; mustard and butter don't usually need refrigeration, so at least you'll have something to put on them.
  • bread
  • Peanut butter (unless you're allergic), a good source of protein
  • Canned beans in sauce (pork'n'beans, beans in molasses, etc.) - again, a good source of protein
  • instant oatmeal

After a couple of days, you don't feel like cooking or eating anything. It's very important to have these easy-to-make things on hand to keep your strength up.

Clean and fill the bathtub with water. Essential if you have a well (as we did), as you will need it for your water supply until power is restored. Good to have even if you do have city water, just in case. It costs nothing but a few minutes of your time, but when you've got a family stuck with a toilet that doesn't flush because there's no power for your water supply, you will be SO GLAD you filled that bathtub. Toilets will automatically flush once the liquid level inside reaches a certain amount, so use a bucket and pour in water, and bingo, you've got a flushed toilet. Before Juan, Dave at the last minute thought to half-fill the tub, and that lasted us a few days. We eventually ran out of toilet flushing water, but were lucky enough there was a runoff ditch nearby where we could get some. Nasty business overall.  

Bottled water, or at least containers large enough to hold several days worth of drinking & cooking water. Essential if you have a well, good idea even if you don't.

Before the storm, make sure your cell phone, music players, laptops and rechargeable batteries are fully charged. If the power's out for a few days, you will be cursing left and right when you realize your laptop only has an hour of power left on it. And you WILL want your laptop. I don't have one myself, but my music player was SUPER important to my sanity by day three.

Most power companies have a toll free line where they have a recording of power restoration updates, program it in your phone ahead of time, so you won't have to dig around for it in the phone book with a flashlight later.

Make sure you have some cash handy. By day four, if some local fast food places have power, you are going to want their food like you never have before. And there's a possibility that they might have intermittent issues with their debit and credit machines, so have some cash around for stuff like that. My parents had power long before we did, and God love them, they brought us some takeout on day four, and we ate that like we had never eaten food before. Four full days of a limited diet, where the can of Chef Boyardee split between two people was your big meal of the day, you get pretty hungry.

Get out your flashlights (at least one per level of your house), batteries for the flashlights, candles, oil lamps with oil, etc. before the storm. You don't want to have to be fumbling around in the dark looking for this stuff after.  I keep supplies like that all in a rubbermaid box in the basement, so I know where everything is (and check it yearly to make sure batteries are still good, etc.)  And remember, when its dark, it's DARK. There's no lights on the streets or anywhere nearby, it is blacker than you might expect. You should leave one flashlight in the bathroom, you'll need one there even during the day, unless you have a window.

Make sure you have your medicines, prescriptions, etc. with at least a weeks' worth, just in case.

First aid kits, with painkillers and such, should be handy.

Be sure you have enough pet food on hand to last at least a week. Cats and dogs especially react badly stomach-wise to an abrupt change in diet, and the last thing you want is your animals getting diarrhea during this time.

If you have an outdoor barbeque, be sure stock up on charcoal, matches/lighters and/or propane. You will be able to use this to cook food that will spoil otherwise in the rapidly defrosting fridge, or using it at its most basic, to boil water. You will need this for coffee, tea, and cup noodles. REMEMBER TO NOT USE CHARCOAL INDOORS! Every year people die of carbon monoxide asphyxiation because they think they can use charcoal indoors. You can't. Its not worth the risk, even if it's well ventilated.

Break out the board games! For the first couple of nights, this is a fun way to pass the time with family. After a couple of days, well...humor is pretty much lost, and you are just trying not to stab everyone to death, much less play board games with them. Do TRY and keep your humor though, its a rough situation for everyone involved, especially the kiddies.

Radios are excellent sources of info, and support. You can hear the latest on the cleanup, and feel a little better about your own situation when you hear the dj hasn't had a shower in three days either.

Baby Wipes. Invaluable if you don't get water for several days, just to give yourself a little freshness pick-me-up. You *will* feel dirty and skanky, these can help.

Just say no to joyriding and sight seeing. Yes, after a hurricane there will likely be a lot of cool-looking damage, but the last thing power and emergency crews need is people out and about clogging up the roads for no reason at all other than they're *bored*. Man up, put society's needs ahead of your own, and unless you have an emergency, don't leave the house until the crews have had a chance to do their work. It goes faster for everyone this way.

There will be frustration and DEFINITE resentment when you see power coming on near your home, but not on your street. This is normal, but try to keep in under control. The power company has its own way of doing things, certain grids need to get attention before others, and rest assured, in due time you will get your power back. Driving over and bitching at them while they work will do nothing to better your situation. They're not going to suddenly change their mind and go running over to fix your power. It will not happen. Leave them to their work.

Make sure you have a fire extinguisher handy - safety first!  You might have candles for lighting, be using them for cooking (see below), etc, and you should make sure you have it handy at all times. 

Don't knock tea lights! They're more powerful than you think! We used them to power our indoor cooking system, and they worked great. Our indoor cooking system consisted of a design I gleaned from my Girl Guiding days - an old metal coffee can, turned upside down, with vents poked in the top. In Guides, we had a heat source of, I believe, cardboard rolled inside an old tuna can, filled with hardened wax, then lit. We didn't have any wax, but we did have tealights, so we filled a tray with tealights (5 or more work great, if you can fit them in) put the can on top, and waited. We were able to boil water in a pot and heat our pasta dinners on this.  Remember, the can is HOT!  Patience is key - it is makeshift, but it does get the job done, and in the end, that's all you really need.

But, as an addition to the above - don't use scented candles!! The scent will wear out its welcome very quickly, and you will come to associate the smell with bad times.

Well, I've made all the preparations I can (it's 40 deg. Celcius right now, with the humidex, so I'm really limited in the running around I can do).  I hope this helps and gives you some ideas for preparations you can make for yourself should you ever find yourself in this situation.  Good luck!  And if you have any other hints or suggestions, post them in the comments field below.

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